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A Political Hurricane Blew Through Georgia. Now It’s Bracing for More.

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ATLANTA — The death threats finally appeared to be subsiding, Brad Raffensperger was happy to report.

“I haven’t gotten one in a while,” said Mr. Raffensperger, Georgia’s embattled secretary of state, expressing hope that political passions might be cooling off in the state — though “cooling off” is relative in the country’s most heated battleground.

Not since Florida’s presidential recount of 2000 has one state’s election cycle drawn so much national — even international — scrutiny. Polarizing figures, expensive campaigns and breathless plotlines have become a seemingly permanent feature of elections here. Analysts have identified Georgia as a major bellwether of the nation’s cultural, economic and demographic realignment, as well as a prime battlefield for showdowns over such fundamental civic matters as the right to vote.

When exactly did this reliably Republican and relatively sleepy political sphere become such a vital center of contention and intrigue?

Why does seemingly every politically interested observer in America have — à la Ray Charles — Georgia on their mind?

The landmark event was President Biden’s becoming the first Democrat at the top of the ticket to carry Georgia since 1992, in what was the most closely decided state in last year’s presidential race. Former President Donald J. Trump appeared especially fixated on the state and made it the main focus of his efforts to reverse the results of the national election. Georgia then played host to double runoff contests in January that flipped control of the Senate to Democrats.

The fervor and spotlight will endure: The state is a focal point for the nation’s persistent voting rights battle, as Republicans move swiftly to roll back ballot access in what opponents say is clear targeting of Black voters with echoes of Jim Crow-era disenfranchisement.

In 2022, the Peach State’s race for governor is likely to include perhaps the Democratic Party’s leading champion of voting rights, Stacey Abrams, in a replay of the 2018 grudge match between her and Gov. Brian Kemp, the Republican incumbent. One of the two Democrats who won their races in January, Senator Raphael Warnock, will also have to turn around and defend his seat next year in a race that Republicans are already eyeing as they seek to reclaim the chamber. Several local and national Republicans — including Mr. Trump — have tried to recruit the former University of Georgia football legend Herschel Walker to run for the seat, which could lend another wrinkle to the state’s political story, as if it needed one.

Adding to the chaos, Mr. Kemp has become the target of a vendetta by Mr. Trump, who has condemned him for not doing more to deliver (or poach) victory for him in Georgia in November. This has also made Georgia the unquestioned center of the internal disputes that have roiled the Republican Party since November. Mr. Trump has seemed intent on making the state a key stop on a revenge tour he has waged against Republicans he has deemed insufficiently loyal to him — Mr. Kemp and Mr. Raffensperger chief among them.

“It just feels like a hurricane blew through here politically in the last few campaigns that just keeps carrying over,” said former Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Republican from the state.

Senator Jon Ossoff, who prevailed alongside Mr. Warnock in the runoffs, said that “there’s a tension and complexity to the total arc of Georgia’s history that manifests itself in this particular moment.” That tension, he added, “is continually being expressed in our politics.”

People tend to speak of Georgia politics these days in the most dramatic of terms: A struggle is underway “for the soul of Georgia,” and the New South in general. Every week seems to bring a new “existential battle” over some defining issue. A “foundational tension” is playing out in the racial politics of a place considered both a cradle of the civil rights movement and a pillar of the old Confederacy.

Some days, state officials said, the stakes feel too high, the energy too charged and the language too extreme.

“In my opinion, that’s not healthy, and that’s not what America should be,” said Gabriel Sterling, another top election overseer who, like Mr. Raffensperger, gained a national profile as Mr. Trump challenged Mr. Biden’s victory in the state with false claims of rampant voter fraud. (Mr. Trump’s phone call to Mr. Raffensperger in December, pressuring him to “find” enough votes to overturn the results, was disclosed by The Washington Post and led Georgia prosecutors to open a criminal investigation into the former president.)

“You’re not supposed to live and die by these elections,” Mr. Sterling said, noting that in a healthy democracy, the “normal” number of death threats directed at an official like him would be “zero.” He and Mr. Raffensperger were sitting in a tavern near the Georgia Capitol early this month, monitored by a security detail. They were unwinding after another day of pitched political battle in which the Republican-controlled legislature passed an election bill that would create a raft of new ballot restrictions.

Republicans are now worried that their slipping grip on Georgia could make it a perennial swing state. Mr. Chambliss said that white suburban women, who have been the key component of the state’s Republican coalition, had defected en masse in recent years, more drastically around Atlanta than in other growing metropolitan areas around the country.

“The animosity toward Trump is real, and that’s a group that Republicans need to be courting in a heavy way,” Mr. Chambliss said. He added that such a goal would not be easy to achieve as long as Mr. Trump kept involving himself in the state’s politics.

“A lot of us have been standing on mountaintops screaming that our margins in the suburbs have been collapsing,” said Brian Robinson, a Republican political consultant in Georgia. Much of the recent focus on those electoral shifts, he said, flowed from the tiny margin of votes separating Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump in the state. That segued to the saturation media coverage of the Senate runoffs, the Republican election challenges and, of course, Mr. Trump’s conduct after Nov. 3.

“Everything became all about Georgia,” Mr. Robinson said. “I was getting interviewed by newspapers from Switzerland.”

The transformation of Georgia’s politics is largely a story of rapidly changing demographics. Atlanta is among the fastest-growing cities in the country, its suburbs evolving from a white Republican hotbed to a more diverse and progressive population of college-educated “knowledge workers.” Metropolitan Atlanta has attracted a substantial influx of younger immigrants and transplants from more crowded and expensive cities in the Northeast and the West.

Likewise, the racial makeup has shifted rapidly. “Our demography is reflective of where many states are, and where the nation is headed,” said Ms. Abrams, who added that the majority of Georgia’s population was expected to be nonwhite by the end of this decade. “Politically, Georgia reflects what happens when all of these things come together. It’s a difficult thing to navigate on a national scale, and Georgia is the living embodiment of this.”

The point of convergence for much of this ferment has been the protracted struggle over voting rights. Ms. Abrams, who founded the political advocacy and voter registration group Fair Fight Action, has received broad credit for helping capture the state’s electoral votes for Mr. Biden and the Senate seats for Democrats.

She became a voting rights cause célèbre herself in 2018 after enduring a bitter defeat in a governor’s race marred by accusations of voter suppression against Mr. Kemp in his former capacity as Georgia’s secretary of state. Ms. Abrams has to this day refused to concede defeat; Mr. Kemp, who oversaw the purging of hundreds of thousands of Georgians from the state’s voter rolls during his tenure, denied any wrongdoing. He declined to comment for this article.

Ms. Abrams said that Republicans could not match the political energy and the demographic momentum that have propelled Democrats in Georgia, other than to pursue laws that would make it harder for traditional Democratic constituencies, such as African-Americans, to vote.

The legislation currently making its way through the Capitol includes strict limits on weekend voting, a measure that could significantly impede the traditional role of Black churches in fostering civic engagement. A bill that passed the Georgia Senate early this month would repeal “no-excuse” absentee voting and require more stringent voter identification measures. The state’s political patriarch, the 96-year-old former President Jimmy Carter, said this past week that he was “disheartened, saddened and angry” about the legislation.

“We know that some version of this bill is likely to pass because Republicans face an existential crisis in Georgia,” Ms. Abrams said. By the same token, Democrats could face a crisis of their own if Republicans succeed at enacting more restrictive voting laws in Georgia and several other states with Republican-controlled legislatures.

Mr. Ossoff, who at 34 is the youngest member of the Senate, said Georgia had become a textbook case of how political and generational realignment “can change power dynamics in a way that has massive national implications.”

Mr. Ossoff’s life trajectory has offered him a firsthand view of these shifts. He grew up in a suburban Atlanta congressional district that was once represented in the House by Newt Gingrich, the Republican speaker, and is now represented by Lucy McBath, an African-American Democrat.

Mr. Ossoff began his career as an intern for the civil rights pioneer and Georgia congressman John Lewis, became the first Jewish senator from the Deep South and entered the chamber with first Black senator to represent Georgia, Mr. Warnock. He now sits at a Senate desk that was once occupied by the fierce civil rights opponent Richard Russell and the staunch segregationist Herman Talmadge. In accordance with Senate tradition, both long-dead senators carved their initials in the desk, though Mr. Ossoff said he had yet to do that himself.

Georgia Republicans say it would be shortsighted to think that legislation alone can stem the state’s recent tide of red to blue. Nor is it clear whether the most powerful motivating force in their party — Mr. Trump — has in fact motivated just as many voters to support Democrats in and around Atlanta.

This dynamic has extended to Trump acolytes like Representative Marjorie Taylor-Greene, the first-term Republican from the state’s northwest corner, whose far-right views, incendiary language and promotion of conspiracy theories have made her the biggest new attention magnet in Congress, for better or worse. “I have always subscribed to having a big tent,” Mr. Chambliss said. “By the same token, I don’t know where some of these people who wander into the tent ever come from.”

Former Senator Kelly Loeffler, the Republican businesswoman whom Mr. Kemp appointed to replace the retiring Johnny Isakson in late 2019, announced plans last month to start a voter registration group of her own, geared toward disengaged conservatives. Ms. Loeffler, who lost to Mr. Warnock, envisions the organization, Greater Georgia, as a Republican counterbalance to Ms. Abrams’s efforts.

Ms. Loeffler said she had committed a seven-figure sum of her own money to seed the effort. “When I stepped out of the Senate, I heard people say consistently that ‘someone needs to do something about Georgia,’” Ms. Loeffler said.

Ms. Loeffler did not say precisely what “needs to be done about Georgia” whether she meant only finding new ways to reach and register conservative voters or working to support Republican-driven laws that would discourage Democrats from voting. Ms. Abrams dismissed the effort as “a shallow attempt at mimicry” and “a vile attempt to limit access based on conspiracy theories.”

Ms. Loeffler said she was merely “working to ensure that voters trust the process of voting.” She leaned heavily on phrases like “transparency,” “uniformity” and “election integrity,” which critics deride as false pretenses for Republican efforts to impose voter suppression measures. “There’s no question that many Georgians did not trust the process,” she said.

Ms. Loeffler’s brief foray into elective politics began in January 2020, during Mr. Trump’s first Senate impeachment trial. She immediately began running for her November re-election, in a campaign that included Representative Doug Collins, a firebrand Republican and fierce defender of Mr. Trump who continually derided Ms. Loeffler as a “RINO” (Republican in name only) who was not adequately devoted to the former president. She then spent much of her brief Senate career trying to display her fealty to Mr. Trump — an effort that included a campaign ad literally portraying her as to the right of Attila the Hun.

Ms. Loeffler, 50, said she had no timetable for deciding whether she would run against Mr. Warnock in what would be a rematch for her old seat. As for what other Republicans might run, speculation has produced (as it does) a colorful wish list, from Ms. Greene to Mr. Walker. David Perdue, the former Republican senator who was defeated by Mr. Ossoff, said last month that he would not run in 2022, and Mr. Trump has been trying to enlist Mr. Collins to take on Mr. Kemp in a Republican primary bid.

Mr. Walker, the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner, signed his first professional football contract in the ’80s with Mr. Trump’s United States Football League team, the New Jersey Generals, and maintains a close friendship with his former boss. A native of Wrightsville, Ga., Mr. Walker is a Republican who has encouraged African-Americans to join the party, and he has not ruled himself out for 2022.

He is also unquestionably beloved in his home state, and the feeling appears to be mutual, though Mr. Walker currently lives in Texas.

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In Washington, Policy Revolves Around Joe Manchin. He Likes It That Way.

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WASHINGTON — If Democrats eliminate the filibuster, there is one senator who would have an outsized impact in the 50-50 chamber on issues that could reshape the nation’s future: infrastructure, immigration, gun laws and voting rights. That senator is Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.

There is also a senator whose opposition to eliminating the filibuster is a significant reason it may never happen. That senator, too, is Mr. Manchin.

“He should want to get rid of the filibuster because he suddenly becomes the most powerful person in this place — he’s the 50th vote on everything,” said Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, sketching out the argument.

Mr. Manchin, however, does not see it that way. To the exasperation of Democrats, delight of Republicans and bewilderment of politicians who can’t understand why he wouldn’t want to wield more power, Mr. Manchin, a former governor of the state, isn’t budging.

“Sixty votes,” he said in an interview last week in his office, referring to the threshold required to advance most legislation, adding that he would not consider suspending the filibuster for certain bills, as some of his colleagues have floated: “You’re either committed or not.”

But with 18 people dead after two mass shootings within a week, a worsening migrant challenge on the border and Republicans trying to restrict voting in almost every state where they hold power, liberals believe this moment cries out for a different sort of commitment. At a time when they have full control of Congress and are confronting overlapping crises, many Democrats feel a moral and political imperative to act, process be damned.

That puts Mr. Manchin, 73, at the center of the most important policy debates in Washington — and has set the stage for a collision between a party eager to use its majorities to pass sweeping legislation and a political throwback determined to restore bipartisanship to a chamber that’s as polarized as the country.

Mr. Manchin believes that ending the legislative filibuster would effectively destroy the Senate. He recalled his predecessor, Robert C. Byrd, telling him that the chamber had been designed to force consensus.

Mr. Manchin has expressed willingness to support a “talking filibuster,” in which lawmakers have to actually hold the floor, perhaps for many hours, to block a vote. But he has not yielded on getting rid of it altogether and on an array of issues, including voting rights and gun control, his admonition is less about any particular policy end and more about making sure the legislation has support from both parties.

More broadly, Mr. Manchin’s resistance to ending the filibuster has ripened fundamental questions about which version of Congress would be more dysfunctional: a body stymied by gridlock or one that can pass legislation only by scrapping longstanding guidelines so it can push through party-line votes?

“You can’t make the place work if nothing significant is getting passed,” said Representative Ro Khanna, a leading progressive from California.

Mr. Manchin worries that the short-term benefit of ditching the filibuster would backfire for Democrats over the long term.

“I’m concerned about the House pushing an agenda that would be hard for us to maintain the majority,” Mr. Manchin said about the progressive legislation that House Democrats are stacking up at the Senate door. As for pressure from the left, he said, tauntingly: “What are they going to do, they going to go into West Virginia and campaign against me? Please, that would help me more than anything.”

To a growing number of his Democratic colleagues — and not just liberals — it’s naïve to keep putting hope over history, and believe, as Mr. Manchin said about gun legislation, that Republicans may say, “Listen, it’s time for us to do the reasonable, sensible thing.”

Of course, few in a Senate that depends on Mr. Manchin for a 50th vote will say outright that their colleague is indulging in fantasy.

“Joe’s focus, I believe, is bipartisanship, and I agree with the starting point,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, before lowering the boom: “They weren’t going to give us a single vote,” he said about the stimulus bill.

A former high school quarterback who friends say still relishes being at the center of the action, Mr. Manchin is something of a unicorn in today’s Congress. As a pro-coal and anti-abortion Democrat, he reflects a less-homogenized era when regionalism was as significant as partisanship and senators were more individual actors than predictable votes for their caucus.

Twice elected governor before claiming Mr. Byrd’s seat, he’s the only lawmaker standing in the way of an all-Republican congressional delegation in West Virginia, a state that former President Donald J. Trump carried by nearly 40 points last year. And he is an unlikely majority-maker of the Democratic Senate.

“We really are the big tent,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, before knowingly adding: “Now it’s a lot of work when you have a big tent, right? But that’s the way we have a majority.”

While out of step with his national party on some issues, and written off by parts of the left as little better than a Republican, his politics are more complex, even confounding, than they appear at first glance.

He provided the deciding vote on two of the biggest liberal priorities of this era — blocking repeal of the Affordable Care Act in 2017 and on passage of the nearly $2 trillion stimulus bill this month — while also twice voting to convict an impeached president wildly popular in his home state.

And while he may admire Mr. Byrd’s dedication to Senate tradition, Mr. Manchin has not emulated his predecessor by leveraging his power to focus relentlessly on steering spending projects back to West Virginia.

When Mr. Manchin was holding out on a single amendment that was delaying passage of the stimulus bill, White House aides were perplexed because his price for supporting the measure was not additional money for his impoverished home state. His main request, West Wing officials said, was to pare back spending and consider Republican input that could have made the bill appear more moderate.

Mr. Manchin said President Biden warned him in a phone call that the progressive left in the House might balk if the bill were significantly trimmed. “I said, ‘Mr. President, all we’re trying to do is put some guard rails on this,’” he recalled.

He was less happy about Vice President Kamala Harris’s effort to nudge him on the legislation by making an appearance on a television affiliate in West Virginia to promote the bill without forewarning him. The clip went viral and, Mr. Manchin said, prompted cleanup conversations with Mr. Biden and the White House chief of staff, Ron Klain.

As for any pressure that he may feel on the filibuster, Mr. Manchin said he had reminded Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, of how essential he was to providing Democrats a majority.

He said he had told Mr. Schumer, “I know one thing, Chuck, you wouldn’t have this problem at all if I wasn’t here.”

He is not the only impediment to the sort of expansive liberal agenda preferred by many congressional Democrats or even the only one still defending the filibuster. Other Senate Democrats, including Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, also share his reluctance.

Yet none are as eager as Mr. Manchin to restore a bygone day of collegiality. And perhaps, more to the point, none are as happy as him to talk about the need to do so as he navigates representing a once-heavily Democratic state that had been shifting to the G.O.P. even before Mr. Trump arrived on the scene.

He crossed the aisle last year to endorse his closest Republican ally, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, and is already co-hosting bipartisan lunches with her. He is plotting the post-pandemic restoration of his pizza-and-beer parties on the boat he calls home while in Washington. (It’s called “Almost Heaven,” the opening lyric to John Denver’s ode to West Virginia.)

Although some of his colleagues relish the ideologically-charged prime-time cable news programs, Mr. Manchin prefers another Washington institution that also flourished in less-polarized times: the Sunday morning show.

In the fashion of many former governors who grow exasperated with Washington’s glacial pace, at times he can barely contain his impatience. He’s repeatedly mused about leaving the Senate and trying to reclaim his old job in Charleston.

But those who know Mr. Manchin well believe he likes the attention that he receives in the capital, the same as he did as a signal-caller in Farmington, W.V., where he grew up near Nick Saban, the legendary football coach at the University of Alabama and a lifelong friend of Mr. Manchin.

“You’re in the hot seat when you’re a quarterback, but it’s pretty satisfying when you make progress,” said Nick Casey, a Manchin ally and former chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party. Mr. Casey said the senator, who sustained an injury that cut short his playing days, was “the greatest QB who never got to start at West Virginia University — just ask him.”

Steve Williams, the mayor of Huntington, W.V., who served with Mr. Manchin in the state legislature, said: “This is the closest he has been to how he could be as governor, actually driving the agenda, pulling people together.’’

It’s the last part that most animates the senator. Happily bantering with reporters as he positions himself as a lonely, if well-covered, voice for comity, he shifts questions from policy to process.

“Why don’t you ask people when was the last time they took time to talk to some of the people on this side?” Mr. Manchin told a CNN reporter this week. “Try to convince them, or work with them. Have you had dinner with them? Have you had a lunch with them? Have you had a cup of coffee with them? Try something.”

A number of anti-filibuster Senate Democrats, though, are more focused on what Mr. Manchin’s support of the “talking filibuster” could portend.

“I think that gives us a lot of room for discussion,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, adopting a glass-is-half-full perspective.

What does seem clear is that Mr. Manchin is not going to switch parties.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen, although we’d welcome him with open arms,” said Ms. Collins, who has tried in the past to persuade her friend to join Republicans.

It’s not difficult to see why Mr. Manchin remains in his forefathers’ party. A Catholic of Italian descent, he sought John F. Kennedy’s desk when he arrived in the Senate, displays a picture of the slain president in his office lobby and can recall hearing that Massachusetts accent in his kitchen when Kennedy’s brothers came to his parents’ house during the West Virginia primary in 1960.

“Joe reminds me a lot of the old conservative Democrats in Texas,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. “They were born Democrats. They’re going to die Democrats.”

As for the filibuster, Mr. Coons, who was sworn in alongside Mr. Manchin in 2010, said liberals shouldn’t get their hopes up.

Recalling a conversation with somebody who knows Mr. Manchin well, Mr. Coons said this person told him: “If the ghost of Robert Byrd came back to life and said the future of West Virginia itself is on the line he might … think about it.”

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C.D.C. Funding Gun Violence Research For First Time in Decades

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That was the argument he used to help persuade Congress to appropriate money for gun violence research in 2019. The research itself was never banned outright, and in 2013, weeks after the massacre that killed 26 people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, President Barack Obama directed the C.D.C. to reconsider funding studies on gun violence.

The agency commissioned a report from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council outlining priorities, but little changed. By 2019, after Democrats reclaimed the House, liberal organizations like MoveOn.org were petitioning Congress to repeal the Dickey Amendment. Nearly every House Democrat signed on.

But Dr. Rosenberg argued it should remain intact, to “provide cover for Republicans and gun-loving Democrats who can put money into the science and tell their constituents, ‘This is not money for gun control.’ ”

Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who chaired the House subcommittee that oversees the C.D.C.’s budget at the time, said she put $50 million into the appropriations bill that year, but the Senate, controlled by Republicans, eliminated it. The two chambers agreed on $25 million as a compromise, but she said she hoped to double the funding this year.

Dr. Naik-Mathuria, the Houston trauma surgeon, said she would like to see Washington address the problem of gun violence as a matter of injury prevention, not politics. She began researching methods to reduce gun violence about six years ago, she said, after seeing “kids come in dead because they shot themselves in the head when they found a gun at home.”

Her current study is aimed at determining risk factors for gun violence for children and adults, and her past work has led to some changes in medical practice, she said.

Pediatricians in Texas, she said, are hesitant to talk about gun safety out of concern that “it would anger parents or become political.” So she and her group made a broader safety video that tucked in messages about gun safety — like keeping guns locked and stored — with tips like how to keep children away from poison.

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Who Are Gavin Newsom’s Enemies?

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There’s still time for a lot to change: If the organizers of the recall effort reach the signature threshold, the vote to recall Mr. Newsom and to choose his successor — both would be done on a single ballot — probably wouldn’t occur until near the end of the year.

That recall effort is being led by Orrin Heatlie, a conservative and a former sergeant in the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department, who as recently as last year shared anti-vaccination and anti-L.G.B.T.Q. views online. But the endeavor has the backing of a number of deep-pocketed political action committees, most of them right-leaning.

Randy Economy, a political consultant and talk-radio host, serves as the lead adviser to Recall Gavin Newsom, the group organizing the effort. He said the governor’s behavior and demeanor had made the recall necessary. “It’s because of Gavin Newsom himself, and the way he conducts himself every day since he’s become governor,” Mr. Economy said in an interview. “It’s all been more about his image and self-aggrandizing, as opposed to fixing the problems.”

Mr. Newsom’s approval rating isn’t nearly as low as Gov. Gray Davis’s was in 2003, when voters ousted him in a recall. Arnold Schwarzenegger, running as a moderate Republican, was the beneficiary of that effort, winning the recall election and going on to serve as governor for more than seven years.

California politics are different — and decidedly more Democratic — than they were 18 years ago. Democrats now have a 2-to-1 advantage in terms of voter registration across the state. Just because there is a Republican-led effort does not mean that a Republican will be the one to ultimately benefit. Mr. Economy, who volunteered in 2016 for Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign but has also worked for Democrats in the past, insisted that his team’s goal was not partisan in nature.

“Our job is not to pick the next governor; our job is to make sure that this governor’s recalled and removed from office,” he said.

The state is light on prominent (let alone popular) G.O.P. politicians, and some ambitious Democrats already appear ready to run through the open door. All of which points to a possible irony: Even if it were to become only the second successful recall effort in California history, the push — led by conservative interests — could ultimately lift up another Democrat, possibly one to the left of Mr. Newsom.

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